As a perfect kickoff to the Halloween month, legendary rocker Alice Cooper is bringing his grandly outrageous brand of performance to the Milwaukee (or "Mill-e-wah-que") Theatre stage on Thursday night.
Before then, Steve Palec got to chat with Cooper today on his WKLH radio show. Here is a transcript of their conversation, chatting about Cooper's biggest hits, hitting the links, the friendly and unfriendly competition among rock stars in the early days, working with Gene Wilder and – 'tis the season – politics.
Steve Palec: I know that you come to Milwaukee often, but the pressing question is: When you’re here, does that mean you head north to Whistling Straits or Blackwolf Run, or are you going west to Erin Hills?
Alice Cooper: I don’t know if we’re gonna have time to do that; I think it’s only one show there in Milwaukee. It might be Bluemound.
Nothing wrong with that!
That’s a good country club, yeah.
One thing I have always wanted to ask you: "Billion Dollar Babies" was an album that I wore out – including the cover; I wore out that wallet. I listened to it over and over. It was my very first concert. It was seminal. There was not a wasted second on that album. I could go on and on and on, but I’d like to know how it fits into your mythology. How do you feel about that album today, decades later?
That was our first No. 1 album. "School’s Out" was No. 1 in England, and "School’s Out" was No. 2 in the United States, but "Billion Dollar Babies" was No. 1.
So would you say it was life-altering?
Yeah, it was, because we never ever thought we would have a No. 1. It was one of those perfect times; it was the right sound, the right band, at the right time. Bob Ezrin, who produced us, would never let us put a filler on an album. In other words, every song that goes on an album, as far as he was concerned, had to be a song that looked like a gem. Every album we’ve ever done with Bob, he’s very, very particular – so are we – about everything that goes on. So there’s no just, "Well, just throw that song on there."
I was going to say, he didn’t have to twist your arm, did he? I mean, you weren’t against having all gems.
No, and the band was really writing really good stuff, and Bob was … Bob was sort of our George Martin. He was the guy who would take all of our best stuff and put it in the right form. And then the band was the artistic part of it that really knew how to connect it all up and make it into a free-form story. And then it was up to me to put it on stage and really make it work as a stage show.
You did, man.
That album and that stage show was the one that broke all the Rolling Stones’ records. We went out on that tour, and all of the Stones’ records were broken that year. Then everybody said, "Well, you’re never going to do a bigger show than that," and I was already writing "Welcome to My Nightmare," which was a bigger show.
Not to dwell in the past too much, but this is a great opportunity for me to ask: Between that, "Muscle of Love" – I mentioned wearing out the album cover of the wallet of "Billion Dollar Babies," I wore out that cardboard of "Muscle of Love" too. How did you feel – "School’s Out" was already huge; "Billion Dollar Babies," huger – going into "Muscle of Love"? Did you feel like that cliché of, "Oh man, I got six months to top it"?
Back in those days, you made two albums a year, and when you weren’t making the albums, you were touring. So we basically didn’t live anywhere. You either lived in the studio or on the road. That was a whole different time in music and in record-making, because it was sort of like if you didn’t do that, Bowie was going to take over. If you didn’t do that, there were other bands waiting in the wings there, trying to take your spot. So you had to stay competitive.
Even though we were best friends with all of the guys we were competing with, it was still a competition. I was listening to Bowie and Stones and people like that, and they were listening to us, figuring out what you were going to do next. But that was great; that was a very good competitive time, and everybody was experimenting with different kinds of things musically. It was a very healthy time in rock ‘n’ roll music, I think.
Did you ever have any unfriendly competition?
You know, everybody I think wanted there to be some kind of a competition between Bowie and I, because Bowie came after Alice, and he was the space guy. But I said Bowie went in a completely different direction. I think since he did theater and makeup, they compared him to me, and we do entirely different things. And on top of it, we’re friends.
And when KISS came along, everybody said, "Well, now KISS is copying Alice," and I thought KISS is more like comic book heroes. Alice Cooper is more like some sort of weird vaudeville, "Phantom of the Opera" character. They’re really two different things, but I appreciate that people are now getting more theatrical into the music business and creating better shows.
Speaking of theatrical, there is no one walking the streets of Milwaukee who would not freak out if they saw you – not only because of your musical acumen, but obviously because of "Wayne’s World." And I’m assuming that, on the big screen, is the highlight, but you’ve been on TV so many times. Am I right about "Wayne’s World" being the movie highlight, and what was your favorite TV appearance?
That’s an easy one. "Wayne’s World" was one of those things where Mike Myers came along and said, "We need somebody that’s iconic that we can ‘We’re not worthy" whole thing," and he knew that I was an actor on top of being a rocker. So he handed me all the dialogue on that. I actually just had dinner with him the other night. He’s still funny as hell. But that was pivotal because that introduced me into a 1990s audience. That song, "Poison," kind of got me back into that audience.
The best TV thing I ever did was probably not seen by a lot of people, but I did the Gene Wilder show.
I played Gene Wilder’s next-door neighbor. He had a show called "Something Wilder," and he was an ad executive, and I was his noisy next-door neighbor. I did about a 10-minute comedy scene with him that was one-on-one in front of a live audience, and it was maybe one of the things I’m most proud of, to be doing comedy with Gene Wilder and having to time it and knowing when to wait for the laugh and knowing when to wait for the mug. So to work with Gene Wilder was like jamming with the Beatles. You can’t get better than that.
And you know where he’s from, right?
Oh yeah! And the sweetest guy in the world. I didn’t even know that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Yeah, what a shame. What a talent. I wanted to also ask you – and I’d be remiss if I didn’t. You probably will not have to worry about anybody catching you in an Aleppo moment or trying to catch you with … actually, who is your favorite foreign leader?
The funny thing is I am so extremely non-political. People say, "Who are you voting for?" and I’m going, man, these are like two Kurt Vonnegut characters. I don’t really know. It’s one of those things where I can’t, in good conscience, vote for either one right now. I am going to vote, but … and we talk about the vice presidents. These poor guys are sitting there going, "I’m the guy that has to go make the speech when he doesn’t want to." In all honesty, I would vote for Tom Hanks, I think.
So you’re admitting, though, that you won’t vote for yourself?
Oh, I would never vote for me. I would be the worst thing to ever happen to this country. I would give away the baby with the bathwater. I’m so extremely unpolitical. Rock ‘n’ roll and politics are just so far away from each other, I think – at least they should be.
The devil’s advocate argument is, "Well, aren’t entertainers people too? Don’t they deserve an opinion?" What do you say to that?
I think they do – individually. I think it’s a little bit wrong to shame your audience into voting for who you’re voting for. "If you’re my fan, you better vote for blah blah blah." Now you’re treating your audience like sheep. Now you’re telling them that they don’t know who to vote for. And first of all, who would ever go to a rock star to ask who to vote for?! The guy that’s working in my yard in the backyard knows more about it than I do; why would you ever ask me who to vote for? (laughs) Are people forgetting that we’re rock stars?
Two responses came back, including one janitor position. Steve took the other: the opportunity to hang out at WUWM.
After that, he worked at WAUK, then WQFM, then WZUU, then back to WQFM ... and finally worked afternoons at WKLH for a little while.
"I gave up Eddie Money to earn money in 1986," says Steve, who eventually entered the world of commercial real estate.
"But 23 years ago WKLH offered me the chance to wake up early every Sunday morning," he says. "I mean every Sunday morning. I mean like 5:30 am. I mean no matter what I did on Saturday night. Live every Sunday morning. I love it."